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Perhaps America’s greatest contribution to the history of modern art is Abstract Expressionism, which dominated the New York scene for a decade and a half subsequent to World War II. Though less cohesive as an art movement, its common thread centered around an opposition to the strict formalism characteristic of much of abstract art at the time. The movement, which owed its existence to a new evaluation of the individual, spread quickly following the defeat of totalitarianism in the Second World War. The founders of Abstract Expressionism include Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko.
Art Deco refers generally to the decorative arts of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe and America. The style derived its name from the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in 1928. With an emphasis centered around individuality and ornate workmanship, the movement rebelled against the contemporary doctrines of the Bauhaus and the prototypes for machine production which were the ideals behind the Deutscher Werkbund. Art Deco, known for its streamlined style, was hailed as the ultimate in modernity during the 1930s. It drew inspiration from eclectic sources including Art Nouveau, Cubism, and fashion design. The style reached its greatest heights (literally) in New York’s Chrysler Building (1928-1930)
Cubism, an early 20th century movement, was highly influential to painting and sculpture. This revolutionary change in technique and perception of reality was created principally by painters Pablo Picasso and George Braque in Paris between 1907 an 1914. The cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane. Cubist painters no longer sought to disintegrate the objects but to reassert it often by rejecting the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, color, and space from reality in a traditional sense but presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects, whose several sides were seen simultaneously. The barrier between reality and representation is broken. Bits of the real object make their way into the picture: newspaper clippings, lengths of rope and similar found objects. The Cubist mode of vision and construction had far-reaching effects not only in painting but also in sculpture and architecture as well as commercial and industrial design.
Attacking every cultural standard and every form of artistic activity, the roots of Dada can be traced to the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916. Dada, a name which was intended as nonsense, soon became international. The movement sought the discovery of authentic reality through the abolition of traditional culture and aesthetic forms. A group was quickly organized in New York by Marcel Duchamp, centering around Gallery 291, which had been founded by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. The ferocity of the Dada offensive unleashed a tremendous amount of creative activity. The leading spirit of Dada was Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). His greatest work, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even executed between 1915 and 1923, is a nine foot long construction of superimposed plate glass layers. This creation has exercised enormous influence on later art, up to the present time.
Futurism developed in Italy during the first decade of the Twentieth Century. The movement emphasized the energy and speed of the machine and was strongly opposed to existing notions of Italy as as vast museum of times past. As early as 1909 Futurists launched a program advocating the destruction of academies and monumental cities as impediments to progress. The rhetoric was intended to inspire public anger and to arose controversy. The members of the Futurist group included Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni. One of the last Futurist artists was Joseph Stella, whose Brooklyn Bridge series pays homage to a structure that had become a symbol of industrial achievement.
As a major movement in art history, Impressionism followed the Realist movement and the invention of photography. The movement developed primarily in France during the mid 1860s and throughout the 1870s. Although it lasted only about fifteen years in its purist form, it determined in one way or another nearly every artistic manifestation that has taken place since. Impressionist artists became fascinated with the transformation light brought upon natural objects and surfaces. Color is no longer seen as the property of the object itself but of the moment of perception of light, and thus changes with the time of day and density of the atmosphere. The Impressionists were the first to render the full intensity of natural light and the glow of natural colors. To quote Paul Signac, a painter of the nineteenth century who helped transform the Impressionist style in the 1880s, “the entire surface of the [Impressionist] painting glows with sunlight; the air circulates, light embraces, caresses and irradiates forms – it penetrates everywhere, even into the shadows it illuminates.” The principle Impressionist painters were Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Berthe Morisot. Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne also painted in an Impressionist style for a time in the early 1870s.
Although thought of as distinctly American, Pop Art actually began in London during the mid-1950s. Nevertheless, the central figures among the Pop artists are all Americans, and the movement reached its zenith in New York during the 1960s. Marcel Duchamp was still active at this time and exerted strong influence on the new generation. Pop derives much from Dada, born from a similar period of frustration. The term Pop Art was first used by English critic Lawrence Alloway in a 1958 issue ofArchitectural Digest to describe works celebrating mass production, advertising and consumerism. The leading Pop pioneers include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and, of course, Andy Warhol (1930-87), perhaps the greatest Pop artist, specialized in the boring and everyday. He burst upon the public consciousness with meticulously painted Campbell’s soup cans and three-dimensional Brillo boxes. His innovations have greatly affected the art of today.
As the nihilism of Dada gradually lost favor, Surrealism took the next step – that of exploring the workings of the subconscious mind with free association of imagery and juxtaposition of subject matter. The French author André Breton published “The Surrealist Manifesto” in 1924. Initially a literary movement, artists were quick to see the possibilities afforded the emphasis on subconscious association. The first Surrealist exhibition took place in 1925 at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. The painters most closely associated with Surrealism were Max Ernst, Joan Miró, René Magritte, and Salvator Dalí.